I’m having a hard time reviewing Lips Touch: Three Times. Intelligent language seems to be failing me. I don’t want to write a review so much as I want to jump up and down and squeal like a crazed fangirl. Lips Touch is chocolate in book form. It’s dark, it’s rich, it’s delicious, and it’s precisely to my taste.
Lips Touch is a collection of three stories; the common theme, as you might guess from the title, is the kiss. In fairy tales, a kiss is often the catalyst for transformation. Laini Taylor is, without a doubt, writing fairy tales here. From the threads of older stories, she weaves new tales that have all the power of the old.
The first story, “Goblin Fruit,” is set in the present day and features an unpopular high school student, Kizzy, whose unfulfilled longings make her easy prey for malevolent spirits:
Kizzy wanted to be a woman who would dive off the prow of a sailboat into the sea, who would fall back in a tangle of sheets, laughing, and who could dance a tango, lazily stroke a leopard with her bare foot, freeze an enemy’s blood with her eyes, make promises she couldn’t possibly keep, and then shift the world to keep them. She wanted to write memoirs and autograph them at a tiny bookshop in Rome, with a line of admirers snaking down a pink-lit alley. She wanted to make love on a balcony, ruin someone, trade in esoteric knowledge, watch strangers as coolly as a cat. She wanted to be inscrutable, have a drink named after her, a love song written for her, and a handsome adventurer’s small airplane, champagne-christened Kizzy, which would vanish one day in a windstorm in Arabia so that she would have to mount a rescue operation involving camels, and wear an indigo veil against the stinging sand, just like the nomads.
Kizzy’s best hope of fighting off the goblins’ influence is her late grandmother, who, as a girl, rescued her sister as Lizzie saved Laura in Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market. Her spirit lingers near Kizzy still, as a protective influence. The ending of this story knocked the wind out of me. I should have seen it coming, but didn’t. I liked that, ultimately, the actual fruit offered to Kizzy was almost irrelevant. It’s the temptations you’re not expecting that you have to worry about…
Next is “Spicy Little Curses Such As These,” set in colonial India. An old woman makes a deal with a demon, the effects of which threaten to destroy a young couple’s budding romance. There are echoes of Hindu and Greek myths here, though I can’t say what myths without spoiling the most delightful plot twist in the story! I thought I knew where Taylor was going with this story, and braced myself for the ending I thought was coming, and then little details started sifting their way back into my mind. A hint here, a scrap of foreshadowing there, and suddenly things looked quite different! This was probably my favorite of the three tales.
The final tale, “Hatchling,” is the longest story. It deals with a race of cold, beautiful beings called the Druj, inspired by the less-Disneyfied legends of the faerie folk:
Druj live forever and have forever lived. There are no new Druj, no young Druj, no ripe bellies, no babes. If their race began as infants, that history was lost in ancient books, swallowed by fire or mold. As for their memories, they have proven unfit for immortality. They recede into a lake of mist, revealing nothing. They have no legends, not even of a time before the forests grew. Nothing has ever been new, least of all themselves. To an ancient folk dulled by eternity, children are a revelation.
That’s why they keep them as pets.
Esme and her mother, Mab, have lived in hiding for fourteen years, ever since Mab escaped the Druj’s clutches while pregnant with Esme. Now, the Druj have found them, and they want Esme, for reasons that unfold slowly and are more complex than you might think. This story’s plotline is fascinating, and it’s filled with harsh, chilly imagery that matches the Druj themselves.
I adored Lips Touch overall, and I don’t think it would be hyperbole to say that this, along with Louise Hawes‘ Black Pearls, is some of the best fairy-tale writing I’ve seen in years. Fans of writers like Angela Carter and Tanith Lee should take notice. Laini Taylor is going places, with her moving tales and her lush yet piercing prose. As I said, it’s kind of like literary chocolate, or to put it in Taylor’s own words:
“Well, okay,” Kizzy said, feigning reluctance and unwrapping one of the chocolates. It was so dark it was almost black and it melted on her tongue into an ancient flavor of seed pod, earth, shade, and sunlight, its bitterness casting just a shadow of sweet. It tasted… fine, so subtle and strange it made her feel like a novitiate into some arcanum of spice.
Lips Touch also features illustrations by Taylor’s husband, Jim di Bartolo. My copy is an ARC and doesn’t contain all the artwork that will be featured in the finished book; some is still blank and some is labeled “not final.” But from what I can see, the illustrations are going to be beautiful and fitting for the stories.